Some months ago a most excellent ITV documentary, The Secret Life of Babies, had a section on two toddlers who were able to recall words and phrases signed by their deaf parents months before, once they had the skills to sign themselves.
In other words baby’s sitting there soaking it all up waiting for the moment when he can get his mouth around those tricky f and k sounds and say “fuck” in front of granny and grandpa.
This would be funny if it weren’t going to be true (curse our damnable cursing). Only a few weeks ago we had our own cool communication moment and the burgeoning horror that the little fiend knows far more than he’s letting on.
When baby was six months old – just under a year ago I bought him some small board Elmer books. We read them to him solidly for a few months before moving on. At every sitting – and there were many – I would start each story with: “This is Elmer, and Elmer’s your friend.”
Forward back to last Thursday. Baby’s beginning to get his first words, simple two syllable rhythmic bounces – he-llo, bye-bye, Leh-nerd (the child minder’s cat Leonard but useful for the US Southern Rock band later too). We’ve also been teaching him the odd bit of sign language so he’s good at picking up on hand gestures. The day before the day before the day I’m talking about we’d been watching Mr Tumble whose sign for the day was the sign for friend.
The final piece in our picture is a small bath toy Elmer from whose sodden coat baby mostly enjoys sucking out warm bath water. Until last Thursday. Then he pointed at the Elmer toy and said: “El-muh”. Then he grabbed his own hands and shook them: Friend.
And in among the overwhelming pride and wonder I remembered all the swearing…